Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #32

Suggested by: Me

The List:
-empty house
-a cell phone

The Result:
"Serenity's Light" Part 7
The motley group of tentative allies gathered in a nearby empty house within sight of Sarah Brighton’s front door. Kenneth looked around at all of them: the old woman who had seen him emerge from a magic portal with a wood-sprite in tow and acted like it was all in a day’s work for her; the burly warrior, who had rapidly adjusted to his new life, and was even picking up more English words than he ever thought possible; and now this strange woman who looked like she stepped out of a fantasy novel and knew everyone in the group by their roles, even if she didn’t know their names.
He sighed. “All right,” he said to the woman. “We’re alone, and we won’t be overheard. Now will you tell us how you knew who we were, and what you know about the Relics?”
The woman turned her strange gaze over everyone. “It is most peculiar,” she breathed. “You are all not remotely the sort of beings I envisioned you to be.” Nerissa dropped the somber demeanor and smiled at Agnes. “Please, tell me your names!”
Kenneth pointed to himself and then to each of the others. “I’m Kenneth, the wood sprite is Nakoma; that is Agnes—and apparently you have already met Jens.”
“What do you mean, you envisioned us?” Agnes demanded. “How did you know who we would be?”
Nerissa leaned back in the plastic lawn chair as if she was lounging on a throne. “I could identify you all because I devised the roles I would need to succeed in my quest, and set events in motion that would bring you all together right where and when I needed you.”
Agnes gasped, “You’re the one who sent the letter telling me about the Rift?”
“Then you also must have been the one who commissioned the exploration trip that brought me to the Duirfin forest, where I would cross paths with Nakoma,” Kenneth guessed, even as his rational mind tried to make him realize how bizarre the theory sounded as he spoke it.
Nerissa nodded. “I was the one, also, who struck the Northman here and left him at the site of the portal you knew as the Rift—and I was the one who sent the Relics to the museum you were just trying to get access to.”
Kenneth huffed, “So, what are these Relics you speak of? And why exactly did you need someone like me?”
Nerissa grew serious again as she watched him. “I am sorry for your loss, Kenneth; for you, this mission is much more personal, because you need at least one of the Relics, even more than I need all three of them.” Their eyes met, and Kenneth knew that she understood his desperation. Nerissa continued, “The Relics are three enchanted items that have as their source the light that I now carry: the Light that once gave light to all who lived in my realm: Serenity.”
Kenneth pulled out the brochure that displayed the three items in their display case. “So the collar I know about, because Nakoma told me,” he pointed to the item in question.
“The crown,” Jens supplied, “I touched the crown and it gave me eternal life.”
“Really?” Agnes asked, staring at him in surprise.
Jens nodded. “I was set upon by a pack of wild wolves, and rather than dying, I awoke some time later, with the scars you no doubt saw when you found me.” He pointed to his chest, where Agnes and Kenneth well remembered the state of his body and his clothes when they found him.
“What about the sword?” asked Kenneth.
“The sword holds the power of strength,” Nerissa answered. “It gives the bearer the courage and fortitude to achieve their goals.” She looked up at Jens. “I was the one to carry the sword when the Darkness first attacked in the Forgotten Wood, and it enabled me to acquire the Light of Serenity. I gave it to my friend Relaya, a Fae—and the next time I saw it, you carried the sword. Tell me,” her gaze narrowed, “what did you do to my friend?”
Jens drew himself up defensively. “No more than you did to me!” he protested. “The witch who discovered me and told me of the crown sent me through one of your portals, and she appeared in front of me. I knocked her down and grabbed the sword, and a large bird chased me through another portal, back into a time very close to my own.”
Nakoma perked up at the mention. “This bird you speak of, did it cry kharrie, kharrie?”
“Yes it did,” Jens looked at the little brown sprite warily.
“Please, can we return to the matter at hand?” Nerissa raised her hand urgently. She turned back to Kenneth. “As I was saying, these three Relics are parts and aspects of the power within Serenity itself, that divided when the Darkness took hold. Our legends spoke of a Lore-Master from another dimension who wanted neither power nor immortality, nor the destruction of memory, who alone would have the ability to use the Relics rightly and unite them once more to bring back Serenity and restore my realm.”
Kenneth pointed to himself. “And you think I am that Lore-Master from your legends?”
Nerissa shrugged. “You are the only Lore-Master for whom these Relics hold any kind of relevance.”
“Behold!” Jens cried out before Kenneth quite finished considering the ramifications of his new position. “The curator emerges!” He pointed out the window facing the Brightons’ house.
Everyone watched as Sarah scurried out, garbed in a heavy coat that obscured her face, and clutching something in her arms. She must have seen them enter the house, because she made straight for the front door, left her burden on the front porch, and departed down the street.
Kenneth stood up, but Nerissa put out her hand to stop him.
“I’ll go,” she said.
The others waited till she returned with a yellow mailing envelope. Inscribed in black marker across the front was the message, “WAIT FOR MY CALL. –S”
Inside the envelope was an old cell phone. Nerissa held it between two fingers.
“What manner of device is this?” she asked.
“I’ll take it,” said Kenneth, grabbing it from her.

Minutes later, a shrill trilling rent the nervous silence. Kenneth answered it.
“Is this the man who wanted to speak to me?” Sarah’s voice sounded hushed, scared, and breathless.
“Yes,” Kenneth answered. “Why won’t you—“
“I don’t have much time,” Sarah interrupted him, “and I wanted to explain myself. I don’t know much about what is going on, either, but I just want you to know—I have been warned not to cooperate with you, and I am afraid they’re watching my house, which is why I had to contact you this way.”
“Warned by whom?”
“I’m getting to that! So you know about the artifacts that I have on display at the museum where I work—I’m assuming that’s what this whole thing is about, though I cannot fathom why!”
“Yes, the artifacts,” Kenneth confirmed. “Go on.”
“So anyway, I never connected the two events before today, but a few months earlier, around Christmastime, two men came to my door, showed me a ring that apparently belonged to a very important lady, and asked about a shipment. Of course, there hadn’t been any shipments like the one they described, so I had no idea what they were talking about, but then they told me that when the shipment came I was to be on the lookout for a gang of thieves—and the pictures they showed me were of every one of you!”
“What is it?” Nerissa had seen the startled look on Kenneth’s face.
Kenneth shook his head, wanting to get the whole story before Sarah had to leave. “How did they get our pictures?”
“I have no idea—and that’s not even the crazy part. So just a few weeks ago, I went to the exhibit hall to check on the artifacts, like the instructions told me to do—and there was this huge portrait in there that had not been there the day before. I asked my boss and a few others about it, but they just acted like it had been there this whole time, and I just never noticed it, when I swear it was not there!” She sighed. “What freaked me out was that the lady in the painting was wearing the same ring that those men had shown me! But the painting was from the end of the nineteenth century—how could that same ring still exist, and how could the people who have it find me?”
“So there’s this painting,” Kenneth prompted the frightened woman back to the story.
Sarah took the hint. “Okay, so there’s this painting just magically showing up, so I just took it down to examine it closer—and there’s a letter, addressed to ‘the curator of the Museum of Fine Art in New York,’ taped on the back! It had no date, but it was signed ‘Lady Jocelyn Stark.’ She said something like this was her painting, and that she was watching me, and that if I didn’t do exactly as she said and refuse to cooperate with a group of five strangers wanting my help for something connected to the three artifacts, then—“ Fear overtook her once more and she choked on her words. “Then she could put a plan in motion that would grant her legal custody of my daughter, Lilly. Please,” she begged, her voice very close to a sob, “you have to believe me; that’s why I put on that big show of slamming the door on you, and refusing to help. I want to—I just don’t want anything to happen to my family!”
Kenneth met the eyes of the people gathered around him. Nerissa had chosen them all—everyone knew the importance of this mission. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Brighton—“
“Sarah, please,” she allowed.
“Sarah,” Kenneth amended. “We will make a plan, keep you informed, and we will make sure nothing happens to jeopardize you or your family. Is this cell phone all right for us to keep in touch?”
“Yes, I’ve memorized the number, and nobody knows about it. You can call me at the museum and act like a patron setting up a tour, it would be much more difficult to track you that way.”
“Good idea. We’ll keep you posted.”
“Thank you! And good luck!” She hung up right away.

Kenneth set the phone down and looked at the others. “That was Sarah,” he said, and filled them in on the whole conversation.
“This Lady Jocelyn Stark,” Nerissa mused, “she is, after all, the enemy who wants to acquire the artifacts for herself?”
Kenneth nodded with a pensive expression. “Something else she said,” he recalled. “This Lady Jocelyn who had her portrait painted almost two hundred years ago somehow had modern photographs of all five of us.”
“Does this mean she is immortal, as I am?” Jens guessed.
“Or perhaps she is Fae, and can travel through time with portals,” Nakoma added.
“How are we going to help the poor woman when we risk her losing her daughter every time one of us makes contact with her?” Agnes fretted.
As if in answer, a screech, “Kharrie!!” sounded over their heads as a large figure flew down toward the group.
“Kharrie!” Nakoma cried in answer as the golden eagle landed next to her and leaned over her shoulder. The two soul mates embraced.
When everyone looked back to Nerissa, another woman had joined her, with pointed ears and a dress slightly soiled as if she had come a long ways on foot. The second woman smiled at them, and Nerissa gestured to her as she spoke.
“Here is our answer,” she said. “Lore-Master Kenneth, you say that Lady Jocelyn has five photographs? Well, here is our sixth member, whom she does not know. Everyone, this is Relaya, and she will help us reclaim the lost Relics and outwit our enemy.”

Previously in This Series:

Single Posts:
#26 "The Tides of Battle"
#19 "Story Time"